Healthy Mind, Healthy Body in Older Patients
The old quote we’ve all heard, “What comes first the chicken or the egg?” reminds me of what comes first, “Mental health issues or physical ailments?” Here we are, still having to describe mental health separate from physical even though studies show the correlation. Physical symptoms are common in depression; aches and pains are often the presenting symptoms of depression. These symptoms include chronic joint pain, limb pain, back pain, gastrointestinal problems, tiredness, sleep disturbances, psychomotor activity changes, and appetite changes. A high percentage of patients with depression who seek treatment in a primary care setting report only physical symptoms, which can make depression very difficult to diagnose. Physical pain and depression have a deeper biological connection than simple cause and effect.
Recognizing depression and anxiety in our older population can even be tougher, and sometimes, depression goes undiagnosed.
Studies show many older adults report they are satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems than they used to. However, important life changes that happen as we get older may cause feelings of uneasiness, stress, and sadness. For instance, the loss of a loved one, moving from work into retirement, or dealing with a serious illness can leave people feeling sad or anxious. After a period of adjustment, many older adults can regain their emotional balance, but others do not and may develop depression.
Early detection and treatment can improve prognosis. How can medical professionals recognize depression and anxiety in our older patients?
During yearly wellness checks, making the mental health screening part of the check is as simple as asking these two simple questions:
During the last month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
During the last month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?
Let’s all do our part in making this the year we all start recognizing emotional health as part of our overall physical well-being.